This is an excerpt of Canadian writer Rob Dominelli’s Where the Spirits Take Them. Follow the links for Part Two, Part Three, Part Four, and the Epilogue.
In jail, everything is up.
When breakfast rolls around, someone inevitably hollers “Yo, Breakfast up!” to alert the other prisoners of the food trays being handed through the meal slot. In the evening just before inmates are locked in their cells for the night, a jug of tea is slid against the bars and a tray of cookies or rice crispy squares or some other treat from the kitchen is placed in the slot at the front of the range. When an inmate sees it, he says “Jug up!” in a really loud voice, so the other guys know to come get their bedtime snack. On the range there’s a TV and radio, but you can’t have them both on at the same time. The choice is usually made by consensus among the inhabitants of a particular range, and an inmate will call out to the guard station “Radio up!” or conversely “Hey officer, TV up!” and the guard on duty will throw the switch.
Even the jail guards use the lingo. On most days, barring a lockdown or some other institutional emergency, each range is let out for some fresh air for roughly fifteen minutes. The correctional officer will unlock and open the range door and yell “Yard up!”
The cold December night Allan Trudeau stood in front of Roy’s Furniture store clutching a rock, his life was most decidedly down. The doors at the shelter had closed two hours ago, and he meant to make it –he really did, if it wasn’t for that kid with the two girls on his arm who put the bill in his hat when he was pan handling in front of the mall earlier that day.
The blond on the young man’s left did a double-take and said “That was twenty dollars!”
“Hey man, I’m like one eighteenth native, or something. On my mom’s side. I don’t like to see my people suffer,” The kid responded.
Allan might have been offended, this blue-eyed sandy-brown haired white kid in the expensive bomber jacket calling him one of his people. Allan figured the kid didn’t really know what he was saying, and twenty bucks was twenty bucks after all. So instead of acting insulted, he said “Thanks, chum. Merry Christmas.”
The other girl with the young man looked back at Allan as they walked off. “You too, chief,” she said.
He vaguely remembered being at the liquor store, and the package of Canadian Classic cigarettes he bought before heading to the rail yard. He found a few of his cousins in a box car already drinking and joined the party, such as it was. (These strangers weren’t really any relation, but alcohol had a strange way of making them all family, you see.) The fireball whiskey he bought was a hit, they drank of his bottle and he of theirs. The hours flew by and the snow fall had intensified. They tried to build a fire but found nothing dry enough to burn and in retrospect that was probably a good thing. Allan sat in the corner of the car, huddling into the old green winter coat the reverend at the mission had given him. He sipped at his spiced whiskey and it warmed his innards. He followed the conversation around him as best he could, listening and nodding but never adding much to it himself. He closed his eyes and voices slurred and sometimes slipped into Cree, a language he couldn’t understand because he was Ojibway. At some point he drifted off to sleep.
He awoke to a cousin pulling at his jacket, attempting to get at his bottle while the others watched. He slapped the hand away and slowly stood up, still groggy but defiant.
“If youse want a sip all you have to do is ask me brother,” he said.
The would-be robber raised his hands. “We been tryna wake you eh?”
Allan saw that they had already got to his cigarettes, there were Canadian Classic butts everywhere on the floor of the box car, the empty pack laying open beside a squatter.
Another of the group got to his feet, a barrel of a man in a big camo hunting jacket who had a red bulbous nose. “Come on,” he said. “Give us a drink, eh?”
He staggered toward Allan and Allan backed up and then he was falling, his back met the cold rail yard gravel with a thud. He saw two men getting down from the box car, so Allan picked up the first sizable rock he could find and brandished it, getting up slowly.
“You stay back,” he warned them. The stone was round and felt heavy in his right hand. “You got the other bottle of wine. The one we shared before, you drink that.”
“That’s a dead soldier,” another native man said. He was leaning against the door of the rail car, his long hair blowing beneath his grey toque. He had a thin black moustache and squinted eyes. “Come back in here. It’s warmer, eh? Drink with us.”
The man in the car was smiling, but the two others were still advancing on him, slowly. Allan had never struck anyone in anger in his life, but he waved the rock around, pretending to mean business.
Just then a beam of light appeared, and everyone looked toward its source, a rail security officer holding a flashlight, walking toward them. Al dropped the rock into his coat pocket. It clinked next to the bottle. Allan turned and began walking towards the fence at the end of the property at a hurried pace. While the security guard was shooing the squatting drinkers in the box car, Allan ducked through a hole in the fence and came out on Elgin Street.
He sipped from his bottle as he walked aimlessly toward Elm Street. He wanted to see what time it was and he remembered there was a big clock in the bank parking lot on the corner. He knew he missed the door at both shelters by now. The fireball whiskey no longer provided warmth, while he slept the cold seemed to have crept into his bones. His back was sore from when he fell out of the rail car. Why couldn’t they have just let him sleep? Maybe the cold would have taken him in the night and that would’ve been it.
He blacked out, and then he was looking at the big clock. It read twelve fifteen in the morning. He blacked out again and then he was standing outside the furniture store looking through the big picture window at the bed. It was a queen size bed, all made up with the warmest looking comforter he had ever seen. He wanted so badly to get under those covers and just melt into the mattress. He felt for the bottle, took a long tug of it, and then he used the rock to smash a hole in the glass door. He reached inside, slicing a fair-size chunk of flesh away from his wrist while turning the lock.
The police responded to the silent alarm, and followed a trail of blood from the door to where Allan Trudeau lay, snug as a bug in a rug. Allan remembered being tossed from the bed to the floor and being handcuffed and searched.
Did he have any needles? Anything sharp the officer might cut himself on?
Was he sure? He better be fuckin’ sure.
“No. No boss, no needles no knives.”
He remembered the paramedic bandaging his wrist.
“You’re one lucky injun,” The paramedic said. “If that cut was an inch up you’d have bled out.”
Allan didn’t have to be told he was lucky because he knew the next place he’d wake up in was jail. For guys like him, there was far worse place you could wake up. Like a box car in a rail yard surrounded by angry and thirsty drunks.
This is how Allan ended up behind bars at Christmas, and how he would come to believe he unwillingly helped three angry spirits kill a man in the hole.
Follow the links for PART TWO, PART THREE, PART FOUR or the EPILOGUE
A life-long resident of Sudbury, Ontario, Rob Dominelli is one who was always keen on the written word, but, believing it wouldn’t amount to anything, he gave it up. Having spent much of the late nineties in a cycle of dependency and incarceration, he returned to writing again, creating silly stories to amuse other inmates. Fortunately for us, Rob continued writing after his release, and can be found at http://bobbydeeworld.blogspot.ca/